041309 Neil Young, Kingston, ON

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I’ve always liked Kingston.  I hung out there a lot when I was in university.  The cool Kingston downtown weekend party scene was less than two hours down the road from my dorm room and my van could fit lots of friends in for the ride so we went often.  Even for a college town Kingston seemed to have more than it’s fair share of cool restaurants, awesome venues, and fun people than most cities its size.  Heck, you gotta like a city council that renames one of the city streets after their greatest hometown musical heroes.  

No surprise then that when it came time for Kingston to build a brand-spanking new arena they put it right downtown where it should be.  It’s extra-fitting that the K-Rock Centre sits on the street I just alluded to; its address is 1 The Tragically Hip Way*.

I think the Neil Young concert on April 13th, 2009 was my first time in the building.  Regardless, the arena had been open for business for barely a year at the time and I soon found out that they didn’t quite have their act together yet.

Approaching the venue from one of the many side streets, my crew and I did a walkabout before ducking into a random entrance that seemed to have the shortest line.  Actually, it had no line at all, and as the four of us entered the bright foyer busy with concert goers and concession stands it occurred to us that nobody had scanned our tickets.  In fact, looking back at our entry point it was clear that there was nobody there to even look at our tickets.  

It seems we had simply strolled into the venue through the smoker’s in-and-out door, and we were now free to see the concert with our tickets unpunched.

We were on the floor – the best place to witness Neil Young when he’s fronting the powerful Crazy Horse – and the show was great.  He came out of the gate with When You Dance and just took it from there.  Cinnamon Girl, Cortez the Killer, Like a Hurricane; it was one raunchy hit after another.  Standing on the floor of the small 6,500 capacity venue made it feel like an oversized campfire singalong drenched in distortion.

Neil blessed us with one of his acoustic mini-sets halfway through the show.  He played anthem after anthem; Heart of Gold, Old Man, The Needle and the Damage Done.  He might as well have played O Canada or the Theme From The Littlest Hobo, so familiar was the material to his adoring near-hometown crowd. 

He encored with Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower – which was just so very cool – and just when you thought he couldn’t rage over three chords any better he closed out the night with his venerable hit Rockin’ in the Free World and proved you wrong.

And despite the lack of over-drinking and late night pizza (which was of course standard behaviour in the days of old) it was another really fun night spent in the great little city of Kingston.

*To further illustrate how cool the Kingston City Council is:  When they initially put signs up along the newly christened downtown avenue the signs read, “Tragically Hip Way.”  The band quickly sent a memo to the city that basically read, “Ahem…we’re actually called The Tragically Hip.”  And kudos to city council, they took down all the signs and switched them.  The street is now properly named “The Tragically Hip Way,” and it is signed as such.

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